Happy 30th: Depeche Mode, Black Celebration

Thursday, March 17, 2016
Happy 30th: Depeche Mode, Black Celebration

30 years ago today, Depeche Mode released their fifth studio album, delivering a musical celebration which – to borrow a phrase from Spinal Tap – could’ve been none more black.

When Depeche Mode released “Stripped,” the first single from Black Celebration, it was clear that the band was building on the sound they’d begun to establish with 1984’s Some Great Reward album, but as was hinted at by the album’s title, the cheery bounciness of early singles like “Just Can’t Get Enough” and “See You” couldn’t have seemed farther away.

Indeed, in an interview with Smash Hits to promote Black Celebration, Andy Fletcher actually asked journalist Chris Heath, “The new album, it’s not sort of bouncy-bouncy Madonna, is it?”

Not even remotely.

When Heath spoke to Dave Gahan for the same piece, Gahan admitted that Black Celebration was “a pretty heavy title,” dismissing rumors that it was anything to do with black magic and clarifying, “It’s actually about how most people in life don’t have anything to celebrate. They go to work every day and then go down the pub and drown their sorrows. That’s what it’s about: celebrating the end of another black day.”

Ironically, the album caused brighter days for Depeche Mode across much of Europe: it hit #4 in the UK, #2 in Germany, and topped the Swiss charts. Not so in the US, however: it topped out at #90 on the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart, almost 40 spots lower than Some Great Reward.

With that said, however, singles like “A Question of Lust,” “A Question of Time,” “But Not Tonight,” and the aforementioned “Stripped” made it quite clear where Depeche Mode’s sound was heading, so maybe it just took America an album to get used to it: their next release, 1987’s Music for the Masses, which was arguably almost as dour as its predecessor, turned out to be the band’s biggest US success up to that point.